Settled in 200 A.D. and situated only 40 kilometers southeast of Lima in the Valley of the Lurin River, Pachacamac is an impressive pre-Incan archaeological site covering a sprawling 450 hectares of land. Once the most important religious center of indigenous people in the region during pre-Hispanic times, Pachacamac is dotted with noteworthy ruins and ancient temples worth visiting if you have the time.
This expansive location is home to ancient pyramids dating back to the 1300s, temples and palaces built between 800-1450 CE, remains of frescoes, and many artifacts that offer a look into the lives of its ancient inhabitants. For those searching for an unforgettable day trip just outside of Lima, look no further – here’s everything you need to know about Pachacamac and how you can visit the site.
It was first settled around 200 A.D., and flourished for almost 1,300 years until the Spanish invasion. Named after the “Earth Maker” creator God, Pacha Kamaq, the word Pachacamac itself means “soul of the Earth, the one who cheers the world”. The ancient Peruvians believed that even one shake of his head could cause an earthquake, and that you couldn’t look directly into his eyes- even priests entered the enclosure walking backwards.
The site was first settled during the regional development period between 200-660 A.D., later influenced by several other cultures. From 600-1100 AD, the Huari reconstructed the city for use as an administrative center. This influence can be seen in a number of Huari designs on the structures, and on the ceramics and textiles found in the cemeteries from this period. During this period, the oracle of Pachacamac reached its peak and the site became a destination for religious pilgrims. Extensive cemeteries and religious offerings are found dating back to this time.
By 1100 A.D., the Ychma established Pachacamac as their center of power, building a number of residential and administrative settlements throughout the Valley of Lurin. The majority of the common architecture and temples at Pachacamac were built during the Huari and Ychma periods, from 800-1450 CE, many of which can still be seen today.
In 1470, the Incas invaded Pachacamac and began to use it as a key administrative and religious center within the Inca Empire. Out of respect for the religion of the conquered former inhabitants, the Incas entered Pacha Kamaq into their religion, even though they already had their own creation god, Viracocha (though he was still regarded as more powerful). They allowed the center an unusual amount of independence from the rest of the Inca Empire, which enabled the culture of Pachacamac to continue functioning culturally as it had before the conquest. The changes that the Incas made included the construction of five additional buildings, including a temple to the sun on the main square.
The living site of Pachacamac finally reached its end when the Spanish invaded in 1533. After the Battle of Cajamarca, the Spanish arrived to Pachacamac and defiled the Temple of the Sun. The remaining walls of the temple were pulled down by Spanish settlers over the next few years, and the site has remained unused since.
Archaeologists first began exploring Pachacamac in the 1890s, to find that many of the enormous buildings and burials had been previously looted. The collection of buildings themselves however, remains one of the best preserved pre-Hispanic sites in all of Latin America, and archaeologists continue to find incredible artifacts that provide new insights into different periods of Pachacamac’s history. Recent discoveries have included grave sites and cemeteries, many of which contain tombs of mummies with sacred offerings, such as human and animal sacrifices.
Pachacamac’s vast site shelters more than 50 architectural structures, best explored with a tour guide who can teach you about everything you’ll see and expertly direct you around the complex.
The first section of the site, the sacred religious section, includes temples of religious significance and a large cemetery. Here you’ll find the three most famous pyramids: the Painted Temple, the Temple of the Sun, and the Old Temple of Pachacamac. All remain remarkably intact, however looting and wear by weather have made it challenging for archaeologists to gather concrete proof on the exact dates and uses of these temples (though it is believed that the Temple of the Sun was used for the sacrifices of women and children in Inca rituals).
In the second section of Pachacamac exist a variety of buildings, mainly secular pyramids, that were likely for administrative purposes. These mid-brick stepped structures date back to the late 1300s to the mid-1400s.
To provide visitors with detailed context, and to display the amazing archaeological finds discovered at Pachacamac, there is a museum (with cafe and bathroom facilities) on site. The museum was first established in 1965, but a brand new museum building was opened in February 2016 to provide state-of-the-art displays to cater to the growing number of tourists and better signify the importance of the site.
Ready to visit this incredible archaeological site? The best way to get to Pachacamac from Lima is by driving, which can easily be arranged as part of a Lima tour, by renting a car, or by taxi. The drive should take about one hour from the city (allow time for traffic if coming from the center).
A trip to Pachacamac can either be done as a half day or full day, depending on your level of interest. To get the most out of your experience. Be sure to take plenty of sun screen, your sun glasses and hat, and water to stay hydrated as the site is very much exposed to the sun and temperatures and UV radiation can be high.
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